Sunday, September 20, 2009

Irish Cream!

350ml decent whiskey (you can adjust the kind and quantity based on taste, the whiskey does not have to be Irish)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tall tbls hot coco mix (you can use 2tbls of chocolate syrup, but I like the taste less)
2 tsp. instant espresso (you can use instant coffee too)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Throw it all in a blender, then a jar, then chill in the fridge.
You only need to blend it for a short time, 40 seconds at most on a rather slow setting - if you over blend it you'll churn your milk to butter.

It'll last a month or two in there.

Shake well before serving. Serve over ice. Or ice cream. Or as I prefer, in cold brewed, iced coffee, with a shot of mint.

I'd love to hear what you think of the recipe, or what variations you use (I've read about people adding raw eggs to make it creamier, or coconut extract for a slightly different taste). So leave a comment :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cold brewed coffee

I guess you can say this coffee is more "eco-friendly" because it doesn't use heat. It's also more "delicious." I like the way coffee tastes when brewed this way, you get a lot more of the subtle flavors and a lot less of the undesirable ones. I've also noticed it really smoothes out the "bitter" taste of some coffees.

- Mix 1 cup coffee grounds to 4.5 cups water

- Stir it every so often till the grounds become saturated and sink to the bottom.

- Let it sit for 8 hours (a lot like sun tea)

- Filter it (I stick a wire strainer over a pot and put a paper towel in it)

- Filter it again (I use a regular old coffee filter in the strainer this time, and just like a tea bag, don't squeeze it to speed it up)

- Store it in the fridge for whenever you want coffee.

It'll come out more concentrated, so you may have to dilute with water to taste - or if you're like me, don't dilute it at all, and just mix some Irish cream and a shot of mint in with it, and pour it over ice.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Attic Mayhem

Simply put, your roof and attic are the most important parts of your house - anything else is just extra stuff holding the roof and attic up. The whole purpose for a house is to be a place to live in that will protect you and your stuff from the weather, and your attic and roof are what does almost all of the protecting. The roof keeps rain out of your attic, and your attic keeps the house at a reasonable temperature.
The attic keeps the heat in your house during winter, and the heat out during summer. The attic will get extremely hot during the summer, from the sun heating up those dark-colored asphalt based shingles. It will retain that heat long into the night, forcing you to run your A/C a lot longer. There are three solutions to this problem:

1) Vent the attic, get that hot air out of there.

There are many ways to vent your attic, and it can get pretty complicated if your roof is a complex shape. If your roof was properly built in the first place, it's designed so that cold air comes in from the soffits (vents under the overhang of your roof) and flows out through a vent at the top of the roof, allowing a constant "wash" of cold air over the underside of the roof. If you have a crappy old house, like I do, you might just need to install vents and an exhaust fan. Click here for some pictures and demonstrations about what I am describing. This is also important for keeping moisture out of the attic.

If you have mold, mildew, and rusting nails in the attic, it's probably not venting moisture well enough.

2) Insulate the attic, or separating your living area from the inferno over your head.

This is the most important part of your house to insulate. Here is where the heat of the sun is kept out during summer, and the heat from your heater is kept in during winter. Different areas have different standards for how much insulation goes into your attic, for example, in Maryland the standards are:

- Attic: (Green: R-49) (Std: R-38)
- Floor: (Green: R-30) (Std: R-25)
- Exterior walls: (Green: R-18 to R-22) (Std: 13)
- Unventilated Crawl spaces: (Green: R-25) (Std: R-19)
- Basement walls: (Green: R-25) (Std R-11)

You can see that the attic calls for the highest R-value of insulation in the house.

You have a lot of options for how to insulate the attic, If your attic is pretty open and square, like mine, you can use rolls of fiberglass, or you can use blow-in insulation (for those hard to reach areas, or if you're too lazy to roll out the fiberglass). Another option is spray-in insulation, it's expensive but is supposed to be the most effective.

You don't want to compress the insulation once it is in, the air inside the insulation is one of the things that gives it such great insulating properties.

Use a mask when laying fiberglass, and rub all exposed skin with baby powder before starting work, it makes the glass much less likely to stick to you and saves you tons of itching. I tried this, it works.

3)Reject heat before it even gets into the attic.

Don't use black shingles, they soak up the sun. If you already have them, many companies offer a aluminum-based silver paint that not only protects your roof, but helps reflect heat away from your house.

If your roof is the right shape, it will reflect and focus the heat onto your neighbors house, causing it to explode. Wear eye protection.

Now, if you're one of those idiots who bought a really small house with no space to store anything (like myself), then you probably want to turn your unfinished attic into storage space. That is what I chose to do, because the roof is so low you can't even stand up in the middle of the attic - turning it into living space would be pointless, wasteful, and cruel to your guests if you turn it into a guest room. I went to Home Depot (boo) and grabbed the cheapest flat wood I could find that would still hold my weight - half inch OSB (chip board) at $5.22 per 4x8 sheet. I had them chop it in half into 2x8 sheets to make it easier to transport and manage (it's free to have them cut your wood).
My house is divided into two sections, the addition, and the old house. The addition has proper 2x6 supports and is very sturdy. I simply put the OSB down and nailed it in place, sometimes notching the edges to allow a wire through. The old house has 3x3 beams, and is not even remotely sturdy. There are many solutions, but I just wanted storage space. So I made supports by cutting a 2x4 to fit and screwed one end into the joist (the 3x3 beam I was going to be standing on) and screwed the other end into a rafter (the slanted beams holding up the roof deck). Then I notched the OSB to fit around the new supports.

Now I have a floor I can walk on and store stuff on in the attic.

My friend Mark did most of the measuring and cutting for me, everyone needs a Mark. They may be out of stock of Mark at Harbor Freight, check back in the future.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ceiling Fans: The Hanging Menace

Here in Maryland it was dry, windy and freezing only a few weeks ago, now the mercury has climbed above 90 degrees, the wind stopped, and the humidity hit the point where you only have to inhale if you want a drink of water.

As the local power company knows, Montgomery County, Maryland usually welcomes in the weather with the cacophony of a couple hundred thousand air conditioners turning on at once, converting piles of money into pure Colombian uncut cold air. One of the multitude of roaring air conditioners was attached to my house, it's metal tentacles reaching out and taking money out of my wallet and beating up the occasional kid for his lunch money.

I was alarmed, and not just because my air conditioning unit was mugging people - I was alarmed at the fact that the air conditioner took a very large amount of energy to make the house a bearable temperature, and due to the lousy insulation in my old house, it had to keep using a lot of energy. I calculated it out to an extra $100 to $120 a month to keep our house cool.

I needed a solution, so I turned to the best model I could think of for saving money, an industrial revolution era sweat shop. Looming far over the heads of the hapless and overworked rabble below, powered by their rage and their deep-rooted hatred of humanity, the ceiling fans loom.

The history of the ceiling fan goes back a long way, and with modern fans the concept is the same, move air around. In a modern home, the ceiling fan is usually only noticed when really dirty or unbalanced - or if it is mounted too low and some unsuspecting fool tries to take off their coat and accidentally hits the fan, sending the dust that's been sitting on it for twenty years flying everywhere, but I wouldn't know anything about that. When functioning properly, the fan gets a nice breeze going in the room, just enough to be comfortable without being obnoxious. It makes higher temperatures bearable without actually dropping the temperature.

Unlike an air conditioner, fans take very little energy, usually around 80 watts on their highest setting, around the power use of one of your ancient Edison-era earth-destroying incandescent light-bulbs. That is why they became very popular in the 70's energy crisis. In fact, they liked ceiling fans so much in the 70's that they had to invent platform shoes so everyone could be closer to them.

In the winter you can set the fans on reverse to push the hot air that collects on the ceiling back down to to you. I haven't tried this myself yet.

There is a huge selection of fans to choose from, though the newer fans actually tend to be much lower quality then the older fans (for example, older fans tended to come with solid wood blades instead of particle board). I read a bunch of articles going on about blade pitch and shape and motor quality, but for my price range I just wanted a fan that worked well and was cheap. I got three from Home Depot, made by Hampton Bay. $40, $50, and $60. If you want to spend a lot more, you can get nicer fans, but for me to spend more money on a money saving device, it better deliver more value - such as allowing me to travel through time or get along with my mother-in-law.

Fans come in a lot of different sizes, but almost all of the ones for sale at Home Depot were 52 inches (a measure of the diameter of the whole unit, not just the blade). To find the proper size for your fan, check out the handy chart here. I have low ceilings so I got "flush mount" fans (most fans have a "flush mount" feature). The theory behind the number of blades a fan has is more blades, more air moved at a slower speed, so less noise and bearing wear.

Installation of these fans is pretty easy, despite the massive instruction novel included with them. Installation is made even easier if you have a great friend like Mark helping you install them. For all three of the fans I had to install, I was replacing an existing light fixture, so the wires were already there. Also, they were strong enough that I did not have to reinforce the receptacle. If you do have to reinforce yours, it's not that difficult, and a lot of fans come with kits to help you do just that (not that you really need them, a 2x4 and some screws will do the job nicely)

The first fan I got went over the kitchen table, it's a 52 inch that did 4000 CFM (Cubic feet of air Per Minute) on high. Unless you were sitting directly under it you didnt feel much air at all. In the bedroom I installed a 52 inch fan that featured 5000 CFM on high and it was perfect. Just a warning to you, don't expect hurricane force winds from a regular cheap-o store bought ceiling fan, you don't really want that, you just want the air moving so that you'll feel a lot cooler and the humidity wont drown you. They look nice too.

It's nice falling asleep knowing that you're comfortable and the A/C isn't on all the time, sucking up money and small children, and the breeze is nice too.

If you are considering getting a ceiling fan, Wikipedia, despite it's obvious biases, actually has a really nice article on them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Working on the basement walls, part 2

Well, it was time to replace the left wall of the house. It's the same as what we did in part 1 except one of the walls had to come really close to the original foundation of the house. Because of that I shall be brief with the comments.

Thanks to all who helped, The Fredericksons, Arcands, Mark, Josh, Conrad, Stephen, and Mark again.

I've taken off the lose dirt and poured mortar over what was left to help hold it in place till we have the new wall in. Also note the smashed up wall to the right, as well as the wooden support that will be removed once the wall has cured.

Another picture of the same, different angle.

Stephen, our very competent mason, standing next to the dirt that the old wall was previously holding up.

The new wall going up

We extended the footer a little under the existing foundation to make it stronger. You can see the lines we drew on the foundation wall here to check for shifting at any point in the construction process - a process that, thanks to the 2 week cure times for the mortar and concrete, took over a month.

Conrad pouring concrete into the new hole

Josh, giving the wall a stern talking-to, and placing rebar

Block going up!

See that happy new corner?

Here is what the basement looks like now . . . bit of a mess, but at least that rear wall is looking better.

The basement IS clean now, I just didn't take that picture yet :)